‘American’ is a Race

Declaration of Independence by John Trumbull

While the Left in the United States celebrates the demographic decline of Whites in the country, the mainstream Right has chosen to create a false narrative that the United States was founded as a nation of “ideas” and that race has never been the defining factor for American identity. This viewpoint is either woefully ignorant of American history or is meant to misrepresent the founding of our nation and the beliefs of the Founders.

The modern view that America has never been defined by race has penetrated the highest office in government. Former president George W. Bush said in his inaugural address in 2001 that,

Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina agrees. In 2018 he wrote,

Not just politicians but conservative activists as well reiterate this view. In a speech he gave in Israel, Turning Point USA’s Charlie Kirk said,

Apparently the descendants of the Founders have no “holy” connection with the land on which they founded this country. And we should not take it as any great loss if we were to lose large segments of the country to invaders because our “ideas” would still survive.

Curiously, these conservatives do not quote any of the Founders themselves in order to justify their positions. A study of what the Founders wrote on the subject demonstrates why this is the case. The Founders who wrote on the subject of race and American identity were clear that the two were inseparable. We do not see celebrations of diversity nor do we see any semblance of this absurd idea that our nation is simply an idea. A nation is a people and looking at the writings of our Founders it is evident that it is a specific people.

First, we can look at the first naturalization law ever passed in the United States. The Naturalization Act of 1790, signed into law by George Washington, defines an American citizen as ” Over the years there were alterations made to the language of the act but the “free white persons” requirement was not removed until 1866 when freed African slaves and their descendants were granted citizenship. From 1790 to 1866 presidents Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, Quincy Adams, Jackson, Van Buren, Harrison, Tyler, Polk, Taylor, Fillmore, Pierce, Buchanan and Lincoln all presided over a United States that only allowed Whites to be citizens.

In their individual writings, the Founders clearly laid out their sentiments on the subject. In his autobiography written in 1821, Thomas Jefferson wrote,

Jefferson expressed similar views as far back as 1785 when he wrote

Not only did Jefferson see integration with blacks as a danger to the nation, but he also saw danger of a similar fashion with immigrants from Europe. Again in he asks whether the importation of foreigners is a “good policy.” He suggests an example where the State of Virginia can double its population in one year from this importation and calculates that this doubling would occur roughly 27 years sooner than if the population doubled from births of current residents alone. He concludes,

Jefferson wrote this at a time when only Whites could be citizens and even acknowledges that the majority of these immigrants would come from England but despite that he believed that Americans had grown distinct and these immigrants,

A “homogenous” population is the exact opposite of a diverse population and yet that is precisely what Jefferson sought to attain.

Jefferson was not alone in these sentiments. In 1787, Founder and the first Chief Justice of the United States, John Jay wrote in the Federalist Papers,

In 1802 in his , Founder and the first Secretary of the Treasury, Alexander Hamilton said,

Later he added,

And again,

Similar views were held by Benjamin Franklin who wrote 50 years earlier in his ,

And,

Far from being unconcerned with race issues and identity, Franklin was specific in his desire to increase the number of ‘white people’ in the world. His desire to increase the White population and his warnings of the negative effects of importing foreigners, is in direct contrast to the idea that America is not a race but an idea and that nonwhites could become part of the American identity.

President Andrew Jackson was no stranger to conflicts with nonwhites, having fought against the Creek Indians and in the First Seminole War. His interactions with the Indians clearly shaped his views on them. Concerning the treaties designed to remove Indian tribes from Florida, Jackson told Congress,

Jackson like those before him saw whites as a distinct race that could not coexist with the Indians. Just as Jefferson before him, he saw that diversity would lead to conflict. Nowhere does Jackson argue that Indians were Americans or could become Americans.

In the middle of the 19th century, blacks too were still regarded as non-citizens and one of the most popular court cases in our history explicitly laid out that fact. In the case of 1856, Chief Justice Roger Taney declared that,

In the years leading up to the Civil War there were many disagreements in the country. But a disagreement about who could be defined as an American was not one of them. In the famous Lincoln-Douglas debate of 1858, Stephen Douglas said in his opening speech,

That statement may not come as much of a surprise to the reader, but what about Abraham Lincoln’s views? Surely the Great Emancipator fired back that America is only an idea and that blacks could readily become Americans if only given the chance. This is not the case however. In the fourth debate Mr. Lincoln responded,

Mr. Lincoln’s statement is nearly identical to Jefferson’s from half a century earlier.

One final example comes from a less frequently discussed but still eminently important Founding Father of the United States. Noah Webster is best know for his eponymous dictionary first published in 1828. Webster earned the title “Father of American Scholarship and Education” as a result of his work. The original 1828 Webster’s dictionary defines an American as,

This definition remained unchanged in the second edition in 1841 and all subsequent republishing's until after the Civil War.

E Pluribus Unum

Great Seal of the United States

In the Lyndsey Graham quote above, Graham invokes the U.S. motto in order to demonstrate that the Founders had diversity in mind when they were building the country. This sentiment is echoed by conservative radio talk show host Dennis Prager in his 2019 article entitled “Clarity About Nationalism.” Prager writes,

Based on this view, Prager would label every Founder of America racist. Nevertheless, it is a completely inaccurate assessment.

A study of the motto’s history shows that it has no connection whatsoever to racial diversity. The motto was suggested by a committee that included Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin and John Adams [21]. The design of the Great Seal which included the motto was given to a man named Charles Thomson. Mr. Prager does not quote Jefferson, Franklin, Adams or Thomson in his article and it is obvious why he did not. Charles Thomson himself explains exactly what our nation’s motto represents. In 1782 he wrote,

The many in no way refers to other races or peoples but to the thirteen states all united into one. Mr. Prager’s use of the motto to support his conclusion is unfounded.

The only source Mr. Prager does cite on the subject is the entry for ‘nationalism’ from dictionary.com. If he had looked into the origin of the word ‘nation’ he would have disproved his own argument,

Or,

It seems difficult to accept that those like Mr. Prager are simply ignorant of the history of American identity since these references are so easy to find. It is more likely that these so-called conservatives have an agenda all their own and that agenda certainly does not align with the views of our Founding Fathers.

References

  1. Presidential Inaugural address, 21 January, 2001. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/1129289.stm
  2. Press Release Jan 12 2018. https://www.lgraham.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/2018/1/graham-on-daca
  3. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CZlmGA8MvOw
  4. Naturalization Act of 1790, https://www.mountvernon.org/education/primary-sources-2/article/naturalization-acts-of-1790-and-1795/
  5. , by Thomas Jefferson and Merrill D. Peterson, Literary Classics of the U.S., 1984, p. 44.
  6. , pp. 210–212.
  7. , p. 212.
  8. , p. 264.
  9. , by Alexander Hamilton et al., Oxford University Press, 2008, p. 15.
  10. , by Alexander Hamilton, [12 January 1802]. https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Hamilton/01-25-02-0282
  11. , by Benjamin Franklin, № 21. https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Franklin/01-04-02-0080
  12. № 24.
  13. Andrew Jackson, Fifth Annual Message to Congress, December 3, 1833.
  14. Dred Scott v. Sandford, 60 U.S. 393 (1856) §I, 4–5
  15. First Lincoln-Douglas Debate, August 21, 1858. https://www.nps.gov/liho/learn/historyculture/debate1.htm
  16. Fourth Lincoln-Douglas Debate, September 18, 1858. https://www.nps.gov/liho/learn/historyculture/debate4.htm
  17. , by Noah Webster, 1828. http://webstersdictionary1828.com/Dictionary/american
  18. Prager, Dennis. “Clarity About Nationalism.” , Townhall.com, 25 June 2019, townhall.com/columnists/dennisprager/2019/06/25/clarity-about-nationalism-n2548886
  19. , U.S. Dept. of State, Bureau of Public Affairs, Office of Public Communication, 1996, p. 3
  20. Thomson, Charles, , Adopted by the Continental Congress, June 20, 1782, quoted from , 1996, p. 6
  21. “Nation (n.).” , https://www.etymonline.com/word/nation
  22. “What Is NATION? Definition of NATION (Black’s Law Dictionary).” , 31 Jan. 2014, thelawdictionary.org/nation/